The Pulse

Weekend reads: Republicans loosen state gun laws, Medicaid expansion wins House approval, and homelessness and the First Amendment on trial

By: - February 19, 2023 8:30 am

In this issue:

1. Hours after Michigan shooting, North Carolina Republicans advance bills to loosen state gun laws

GOP lawmakers have passed similar legislation expanding gun access in past legislative sessions. This time, they might have the votes to override the governor’s veto.

Hours after three students at Michigan State University were killed by a man who ultimately turned his gun on himself, North Carolina Republicans unveiled several bills Tuesday aimed at making it easier for people to acquire and wield firearms.

“These are commonsense gun legislation bills,” Sen. Danny Britt, Jr. (R-Hoke, Robeson, Scotland), said during a press conference. [Read more]


2. NC legislators find yet another vulnerable group to get tough on: homeless families (Commentary)

Homelessness. It takes many forms in modern North Carolina – some familiar, some less so.

For several thousand families, it means double-bunking or “couch surfing” with friends or relatives for an extended period. For a tragic number, it means living in a vehicle or even camping out in tents, shanties, parking garages and downtown doorways, under highway overpasses, or on park benches.

Some people are able to access shelters made available by churches and nonprofits. In Raleigh this winter, thanks to the city’s maddening lack of any coherent plan, a trio of modest-sized religious congregations have struggled mightily to shelter scores of homeless people through what’s known as a “white flag” system, whereby a limited number of cots are made available after a certain hour on the nights the temperature falls below 35 degrees.

And then there’s another option of which most well-off Americans are probably only vaguely aware: lower-rung hotels and motels. [Read more]

3. NC House gives bipartisan approval to its Medicaid expansion

The state House gave preliminary approval to a proposal expanding Medicaid, would offer about 600,000 low-income adults in North Carolina the chance to sign up for health insurance.

The 96-23 vote marks the first time the full state House has acted a bill expanding Medicaid. The bill will move to the Senate after another House vote that is largely a formality.  Challenges remain and hard negotiations between the House and Senate are likely ahead.

Wednesday’s debate on House Bill 76 was brief. The state has been talking about Medicaid expansion for years. [Read more]

**BONUS READ: Democrats question revised proposal for NC House veto override votes

4. After rejection by State Board of Education, charter school operator questions whether conflicts of interest were at play

Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy of Wake County’s application to open in 2024 was unanimously rejected by the State Board of Education this month despite a glowing recommendation from the Charter School Advisory Board.

The charter board had rejected an earlier version of the application but cited a new, stronger application and an impressive assemblage of people to serve on the school’s Board of Directors for its change of heart.

The Board of Education didn’t explain its reason for denying the application, but Amy White, who chairs the board’s Education Innovation and Charter Schools Committee, signaled last month that she would not support it over concerns about founding director Kashi Bazemore’s leadership at a charter school, also known as Heritage Collegiate Leadership Academy, in Bertie County.

It’s unusual for the two boards to take such starkly differing stances about a charter school application. Generally, the state board follows CSAB’s recommendations.

[Read more]

**BONUS READ: North Carolina names finalists for Principal of the Year

5. EPA Administrator Michael Regan announces $2 billion for small water systems to address PFAS contamination, $62 million for NC

The water tower is the tallest structure in Maysville, a landmark to nudge visitors from US Highway 17 to Main Street, the heart of this small Jones County town. More than 70,000 gallons of water flowed each day from the tower, when four years ago, Lee Ferguson sampled the drinking water.

“We were caught off guard,” Ferguson, a Duke University scientist, said Monday at a roundtable discussion with local, state and federal officials in Maysville. “We didn’t expect to see it here.”

Maysville’s drinking water, sourced from the Castle Hayne aquifer, contained exorbitant levels of toxic PFAS: 13 types totaling 334 parts per trillion.

Also known as perfluorinated and polyfluoro-alkyl compounds, PFAS have been linked to serious health problems, including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disorders, high cholesterol, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and fetal malformations. [Read more]

6. Homelessness and the First Amendment on trial in Asheville

City draws fire for its treatment of unhoused population and arrest of journalists attempting to cover police sweep of city park  

It was Christmas night, so Veronica Coit hadn’t expected to stay at Aston Park for long. They had come to bring their colleague, Matilda Bliss, a plate from dinner: turkey, sweet potato- and green bean-casseroles, collard greens and a slice of pie.

Coit, whose pronouns are they and them, figured they’d be back home with their family shortly, maybe ending the Christmas night of 2021 the same way as the one before: watching doll-making and rug-cleaning videos on YouTube.

Coit’s plans changed once they saw how many police officers were there.

[Read more]

7. Arsenic, benzene among contaminants found in soil, groundwater at former Weaver Fertilizer plant site

Contaminated soil and groundwater have been found at the former Weaver Fertilizer plant in Winston-Salem, where a devastating fire forced the evacuation of thousands of nearby residents a little over a year ago.

Several soil samples contained high levels of arsenic; groundwater had elevated concentrations of several chemicals, including nitrite, nitrate, and benzene — the latter of which is a known carcinogen.

The initial findings were part of a draft Remedial Investigation Work Plan submitted by independent contractors to the NC Department of Environmental Quality. The firm, Montrose Engineering, used ground-penetrating radar, soil borings and monitoring wells as part of its investigation.

Contractors noted that the extent of the groundwater contamination — both across and beneath the property — is still unknown and needs further sampling and study.

[Read more]

**BONUS READ: After investigation, state health, environmental officials say no radiation detected at former missile plant in Burlington

8. Yet another poll confirms that NC lawmakers defy public opinion with attacks on abortion rights (Commentary)

At some point in the foreseeable future, the American anti-abortion movement is going to founder on the rocks of public opinion. Unless the nation’s democratic institutions simply cease to function — and admittedly, that’s probably not beyond the realm of possibility in a country in which a sizable minority has fallen for the lies of a serial grifter and would-be autocrat — the law will eventually reflect what most people believe about this most private of personal healthcare matters.

And what they believe, by consistently large margins, is that laws that restrict the right of the pregnant person to decide for themselves about whether to seek abortion care are wrong.

This fact was on display in 2022 when voters in several states — including deeply “red” states like Kansas and Kentucky — rejected efforts to remove this right. And it was demonstrated once again this week in North Carolina in the latest Meredith College Poll results. [Read more]

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